Before you point it out: yes, the famous Sydney Mardi Gras takes place in February/March. But it’s June that is considered the Pride Month around the world.
Throughout this blog series, I have mentioned quite a few artists waving the rainbow flag in Aussie music. Amongst them are Montaigne, Alex The Astronaut, Cub Sport or Tash Sultana. This time around, though, I want to shine a light on six acts that I have personally learned heaps from along the way. Because they are awesome musicians and very committed activists in their respective circles.
PART 42 OF “AM I EVER GONNA SEE YOUR FACE AGAIN?” A RANDOM COLLECTION OF UNKNOWINGLY OBVIOUS FACTS ABOUT AUSTRALIAN MUSIC SCENE
Before I start, let’s clarify something important. This post will NOT be about Troye Sivan. Even though I love his song “YOUTH” and I had it on repeat for weeks after the artist’s first album Blue Neighbourhood was released back in 2015. But Troye Sivan doesn’t need any more introductions – he’s already a superstar in Australia and overseas. So let’s shift the focus to some more local LGBTQAI+ artists from the Land Down Under.
EXPLORING GENDER NONCONFORMING
“Positions of power should be ceded to people that they directly affect” are Simona Castricum’s words from the 2018 music documentary “Her Sound, Her Story” (I wrote about that doco here). And boy, are they representative of her activism.
Frankly speaking, I didn’t know much about this Melbourne-based artist before seeing her in the film. She struck me as a very outspoken and confident female then. On many levels. So I did some digging and found out a few interesting things about her. Starting with the music Simona Castricum makes: a blend of techno, (synth) pop, electronic and wave, with the emphasis on “reimagining the singing drummer.”
Apart from being an accomplished musician and performer, Simona Castricum is also an academic, educator and PhD candidate at Uni Melbourne. She researches “gender nonconforming and queer intersections in architecture, the city and public space.” I’m pretty impressed by the number of very diverse things the artist is involved in. From exploring how architectural designs have historically excluded different genders to discussing the queer urban experience. Just check out her website to see what she’s working on right now. (I assure you it’s a lot!). And if that wasn’t enough, her new album Panic/Desire just dropped a few days ago on streaming platforms.
COMMITMENT TO CHARACTER AND STORY
If I was to say only one thing about Agent Cleave, then it would be this: he is a PERSONALITY (capitalisation intended). I met him during a video shoot for “Cincinnati” – a song by a noir rock Melbourne-based band, He Cries Diamonds. It is just one of the many art-related things Agent Cleave is a part of.
I was a total loser during that encounter, very fresh in Melbourne and very new to the idea of shooting music videos. And I was mesmerized not only by Agent Cleave – the real person – but also his stage presence and character. He was so relaxed and natural in front of the camera that I simply felt jealous (I’m not a big fan of being filmed at all). I guess that’s what differentiates great performers from the rest of us, mortals – the camera is just an amplification of their ability to instantly attract attention, no matter what they do and how they do it.
A talented artist and true professional, Agent Cleave has starred in extraordinary projects (i.e. a show called “Show Stopper” for Sydney Mardi Gras in 2015) and collaborated with international personas (like the famous event producer Susanne Bartsch). He has been noticed in Australia but also London, Berlin or New York.
I couldn’t have described his craft better than the words on his Facebook page, “AGENT CLEAVE’s ability to bewitch any audience is as captivating as his unrelenting work ethic.” So I’m keen to see what kind of new experience he is going to lure the audience into next.
QUEER WOMAN OF COLOUR IN HIP HOP
Whenever I research Australian hip hop, the name Jesswar pops up on my radar. And it’s a damn special mention because men traditionally dominate this tough, raw genre. But maybe Jesswar’s name comes up every time as well because this Fiji-born, Brissie/Gold Coast-based artist has something important to say already in her twenties.
The muso is well-respected in the music community, not only within her genre. Having already collaborated with the Australian Hip Hop Royalty (check out “Front Row Hustle” recorded in 2019 with Briggs and Trials), her craft has also been recognised by international rap stars (like Lady Leshurr). She is one of the most promising emerging artists Down Under, revered for her style, energy on stage and exceptional “rapport” with the audience. If you need any proof, how about some 4- and 5-star reviews from the triple j Unearthed website?
Jesswar is also very conscious that she’s paving the way for queer women on the Australian hip hop scene. And she does it confidently and unapologetically. In one of the interviews, she stated, “My way of navigating this is that I refuse to censor myself or change my music for anyone”. Having this awesome platform and the hip hop community’s approval is the right way to go about it.
BEING GAY, BEING MAD. WRITING SONGS ABOUT IT
I was doing a long drive with a friend in a pretty remote area of Queensland last year. We were listening to the radio heaps because there wasn’t much else to do. Surprisingly (not!) only triple j’s signal was clear and strong enough for the car radio, so we didn’t have much choice when it came to the song repertoire. The good thing, though, was that during those eight(ish) hours we got to hear a bunch of new acts that we, otherwise, would have never discovered for sure. Amongst them was a guitar pop duo from Wollongong called Cry Club.
Their track “DFTM” was played a lot on triple j that day. So I learned them by heart by the end of the drive. Here’s an excerpt which will give you a good idea of where the title acronym comes from: “Tell me why you thought that you could touch me / Lights low but I see you clearly / Reaching out like some kind of creep / I told you not to fucking touch me”.
After hearing the song, I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, that’s exactly how I sometimes feel at shows when I go alone”. It’s not what it should be and I’m 100% sure it’s happened to many of my (girl)friends as well. This is why the song was written in the first place. The band stress that they want “people to feel safe at our shows and know we’re looking out for them”. Considering that they also describe their interests as “Being gay. Being mad. Writing songs about being gay & mad”, I’m all for this sort of peaceful rebellion.
MO’JU (F.K.A. MOJO JUJU)
GENRE-BENDING ACTIVIST WITH A SOUL
In September 2018 I went to see a chat with Mo’Ju (when she was still known as Mojo Juju) as part of the Melbourne Writers Festival. I remember being drawn to this Melbourne-based R’n’B/Soul artist’s life story of fighting to be accepted for who she is. She described it vividly in the killer confession song “Native Tongue” that has reached over half a million streams on Spotify since its release in 2018.
Around the same time, The Guardian published an article with a revealing quote by Mo’Ju about the Australian music industry, “I was too queer, too brown or not attractive enough to sell records.” It was a brave statement on her part but one that many artists from ethnic or gender minorities in Australia would second without hesitating. Although things are starting to slowly change Down Under, sadly, the Aussie music business is still dominated by certain “standards” of “presentability” that is quite unfair and very far from reality.
Mo’Ju is quite a private person, and she rarely shares glimpses into her own life with the public. But she recently made a beautiful exception to this rule, after her son’s birth mid-May 2020. She shared a cute picture with the newborn and captioned it with a touching statement, “I am (…) redefining what family looks like with someone who I’ve called family for a long time.” Hopefully, she can turn that experience into a song or an entire album one day.
When a music video is described by a magazine as “Should never be viewed in any public setting” and YT warns you that the clip’s content might not be suitable for all audiences, you know the artist who made it is worth paying attention to. This is the case of a Sydney-based singer/songwriter and actor, Brendan Maclean.
Whilst the controversial video for “House of Air” is not publicly available any more, you can get a feel of it in this “behind the scenes” clip. Believe it or not, it even has an educational aspect to it. I learned about Gay Semiotics from the clip, for instance.
To me, Maclean is hilarious (in a provocative way). Yet, he represents a very down-to-earth and straight-forward approach to his artistic endeavours. One of his first singles, the pop banger “Stupid”, is a good example of his wit and way with words. I love it when he finds his rhymes in simplicity, i.e. “And if you weren’t so busy / I could have loved you / But you work in an office / And you’ve got other offers”.
Like all artists, Maclean has a more subtle and romantic side to him, too. He showed it during the pandemic because this unusual situation has affected us all in new ways, I reckon. And I think I like this sensitive version of the artist even more than the funny character for a change.
In other Pride Month news, Cub Sport and Tash Sultana are releasing new music soon. So you’ll hear about it from me in some form later this year. Oh, and Troye Sivan lives in LA (not Perth) as of 2019 🙂
And who is your favourite LGBTQIA+ artist from Australia?